Turning Santa into the ultimate horror movie villain, Jalmari Helander’s Rare Exports dishes the dirt on the man coming down your chimney with Christmas relish.
Bad Santa by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
If there’s one Christmas film to watch this year, it’s the Finnish treat Rare Exports. You can forget the Christmas togetherness of It’s A Wonderful Life or the festive Kris Kringle cheer of Miracle on 34th Street. Instead Rare Exports revels in an anti-Christmas joy of diabolic elves and an antichrist Santa. It may have a kid-saves-world plot lifted out of Eighties’ Disney, but Rare Exports is certainly no kids’ film. Just be warned, Santa Claus is coming to town.
Jalmari Helander’s Rare Exports has long been in the making, since his 2003 pilot short Rare Exports Inc co-written with his brother Juuso. But his debut feature is an accomplished Christmas horror likely to be cherished for years by bah-humbuggers the world over. It’s not the first film to flick Christmas the finger, with Terry Zwigoff’s conman caper Bad Santa or Bob Clark’s festive slasher Black Christmas perhaps fighting it out at the top of the tree. And while there are a few tongue-in-cheek winks to Finnish parochialism, Russian neighbours or Christmas commercialism, Rare Exports is above all a Home Alone style festive caper. Just with evil zombie elves.
Set in a winter wonderland of snowscapes and reindeer, Rare Exports could hardly be more festive, taking place in the foothills of the Korvantanturi Mountain in Lapland, the mythic home of the Finnish Father Christmas Joulupukki. But like the corporation excavating the frozen Santa from his icy burial chamber 486 metres below ground, the film explodes the myth of a smiling, ruddy-cheeked Coca-Cola Father Christmas. This one (loosely) follows a Saami tradition of Joulupukki, the frightening Yule Goat who, aided and abetted by his white-bearded joulutonttu assistants, would steal naughty Saami children and demand presents. Until the Saami tricked him and buried him under a mountain that is, cryogenically frozen forever.
Until Christmas capitalists disrupt Santa’s not-so-final resting place reckoning on making a buck or two. As the defrosted and rather hungry joulutonttu go on the rampage, they kill a herd of reindeer, kidnap children and steal the village’s radiators and ovens in an attempt to defrost their ice king. Of course, no-one believes in Santa Claus and nobody can quite grasp why this is happening. Except ten-year-old Pietari, who pieces the mystery together and begs a spanking off his father, so as not to be taken away by the joulutonttu. But when Pietari’s father Rauno traps a Santa zombie and all the miners have been killed, it’s up to them and their half-wit friends Piiparinen and Amimo to sell Santa back to the capitalists and destroy the evil lurking beneath the ice. And with Joulupukki blown to smithereens, the demystified elves suddenly free from their bewitchment expose Santa as a festive devil keeping them enchanted and enslaved.
With a brilliant horror conceit at its heart – Santa’s gonna find out who’s naughty and nice – Rare Exports is a satisfyingly chilling romp. It’s got an icy Santa stare worthy of Jurassic Park, a Texas Chainsaw Massacre slaughterhouse setting and an ear-chomp reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs. And with gingerbread-sniffing zombie elves emerging from the darkness like a paedophile convention’s reenactment of Night Of The Living Dead, Rare Exports hits its comic-horror peak. Full of horror references, Rare Exports is gloriously familiar, even if its zombie story remains bizarrely at odds with its Disney plot and kids’ movie production values. Yet there are also moments of great originality, like its Advent calendar apocalypse countdown or its reeducation of the broken joulutonttu into commercialised Santas to be shipped off to Zanzibar and beyond. More a collection of tinsel-like glimmering fragments than a satisfyingly original whole, Rare Exports is nevertheless enthusiastically anarchic with Christmas spirit all wrapped up and ready to send.
Rare Exports is released in the UK on 3rd December 2010